Tears rolled down the faces of the Mountain View football players on Friday night, but the Mountain Lions have every reason to hold their heads high. Under the helm of first-year coach Clarence McRae, the team’s success this year has put the school’s football program back on the map.
The Mountain Lions, who hadn’t made a playoff appearance since 2008, fought through the regular season to earn a 7-3 record, and upset Cienega in the first round of the Division II state playoffs before falling to Salpointe 35-7 in the quarterfinals.
“I’m really proud of our guys and our season,” said McRae. “We had planned on a state championship game, but we still have a lot to be satisfied with. The future looks bright for us.”
Salpointe came out of the gates fast, scoring two touchdowns within six and a half minutes of play, both at the hands of running back Johnny Pena.
The first, a four-yard score, came after wide receiver Cameron Denson gained 33 yards to put the Lancers within striking distance. Five minutes later, after Mountain View was forced to punt, Pena went 40 yards in two plays to find the end zone again and lift the Lancers to a 14-0 first quarter.
Despite a solid rushing performance by Richie Estrada (20 carries, 132 yards), the Mountain Lions as a whole struggled to find an offensive rhythm, and were forced to punt away their next two possessions.
The Lancers capitalized on the opportunity, with quarterback Andrew Cota finding receiver Brogan Kemmerly for a 15-yard score to build a three-touchdown lead heading into halftime.
Out of the locker room, it was the Mountain Lions who would strike first. After a 34-yard gain by Estrada, quarterback Cody Rochon found Brandon Cruz 25 yards downfield for a touchdown to put Mountain View on the scoreboard.
In the next possession, Rochon looked to be leading another charge downfield, but his pass was intercepted by cornerback Jay Williams, who looked to be on his way to the end zone before Rochon redeemed himself, tackling Williams, forcing a fumble, and recovering the loose ball to give the Mountain Lions possession once again.
But just as things began to look good, they also began to unravel for Mountain View. Their drive was cut short on an incomplete pass on fourth and long, giving Salpointe the ball on its own 38-yard line.
Pena broke free for a 35-yard gain and Cota finished the drive by again finding Kemmerly in the end zone on a 22-yard pass with six minutes remaining.
Pena, who finished the game with 23 carries for 215 yards, capped the game off with his third touchdown with a minute to go, handing the Mountain Lions the 35-7 loss.
“It was a tough loss,” said Estrada. “We came to play, and we had some penalties and mistakes that really hurt us. It was a good season overall. Our coaches really pushed us, and next year we will go even harder. We’re always trying to get better.”
The Lancers will advance to face fourth-seed Centennial at Amphitheater High School on Friday at 7 p.m.
Surviving from the northwest side is Ironwood Ridge, who will take on Marcos de Niza at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.